Adjustments

So we’re back in the U.S. for the summer. It’s nice to be here. I’ve already giddily skipped around Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. And Bret has sufficiently stuffed himself with bacon.

It was an interesting and productive 10 months in Aqaba.

Bret finished his first year of teaching at RSICA. I finished my first year teaching middle school drama at Aqaba International School. And Abby turned 2 years old.

We arrived in Tucson a few weeks ago to kick off our a three-month summer vacation. Working in academia has its privileges.

Now that we’ve made the 23-hour trip to and from Jordan a few times, Bret and I have decided that Aqaba is like Narnia. The journey back to the States feels like what we imagine the four Pevensie children felt as they sifted their way back through the wardrobe. Incidentally, there’s also Turkish delight in Aqaba. No White Witch though. And no talking lions.

In other news, when we go back to Jordan in the fall we’ll be moving to Amman rather than returning to our luxury gulag in Aqaba. This is because RSICA has moved to the capital city and while it seems to be a good thing, I’ll miss our little place by the Red Sea.

Or maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll look back on our time there with fondness but great relief. Relief that we’re no longer in such a small town with all its quirks and limitations. I do know that I’m looking forward to living in a bigger city. Amman is a fairly modern place. It has a Pinkberry, y’all.

We’ll still visit Aqaba from time to time. Amman is crowded (4 million people), so no doubt we’ll need a place to retreat on weekends. It’s only one hour by plane or three hours by car, albeit a bumpy ride.

And even if I am initially homesick for crazy Aqaba-Narnia, I’ll remind myself of Marianne.

Marianne was a friend of my mother’s when I was growing up. She was a tiny German-Jew who once trained to be a ballerina and was also a mentor for my mother. She would say to mom in times of stress or disappointment, “Life is a series of adjustments.” Marianne was elderly and had lived through many things, including the Holocaust as a teenager, and later, the death of her adult son. If anyone had the right to sum up life so succinctly, it was Marianne. She passed away several years ago but her words have stuck with me, and the older I get the more I understand and appreciate them.

It’s easy to feel adrift when you’re an expat, particularly a newbie. Some of the expats in Aqaba are veterans of this way of life. One expat friend, an American we’ll call Jessica, is married to a German guy who works in the hotel industry. In the last 8 years, they’ve lived in Morocco, Switzerland, Germany, Dubai, and now Jordan. They have no idea where they’ll move next. Every two years or so, her husband gets a new assignment from his employer and they just pick up and go– and start over somewhere else. Jessica has enjoyed her globe-trotting life. She hasn’t always loved the places she’s lived (namely, Dubai) but she managed because she knew it was only temporary.

One of my students at the International School, a bright Romanian girl, has lived all over the world in her 13 years on the planet. She manages to maintain a really positive, upbeat attitude about her constantly shifting life. Even though she’s only 13, I get the sense she already understands that being flexible is much more fun and rewarding than the alternative. It reminds me of the Chinese proverb: “The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind.” What’s with all the quotes today?

One of the more difficult things about being an expat, especially a serial one, is that you’re always leaving people and people are always leaving you. I mean, it’s nothing personal. Technically, expats aren’t leaving each other, they’re simply moving on to the next gig. It’s well understood within the expat community that this lifestyle is so itinerant and most of the expats I befriend are really easy-going, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It sort of reminds me of the end of summer camp when you have to leave all your friends. You were thrown together for a short period of time, relied on each other for support and kinship (in some cases, even saw each other through pregnancies or other huge life events — although that never happened at summer camp) and then you move on. You’re not sure if you’ll ever see each other again. You vow to keep in touch but there’s an unspoken understanding that you may not. Some of us relocate to strange-sounding places in Africa, some stay put in Aqaba, some move back to our countries of origin. And some move to Amman. Everything is always shifting.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Even when we think we know what to expect, it doesn’t necessarily happen that way. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have expectations or make plans. It just means we have to remember that life is a series of adjustments. Things change. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to. Sometimes things work out better than we ever thought they could. Sometimes we win $24 on a pair of Lotto scratchers.

I have one expat friend (we’ll call her Zelda) who is a longtime resident of Aqaba. She’s married to a Jordanian man and owns her own restaurant, so she has no plans to leave Jordan anytime soon. Zelda is often the one “left behind” by other expats. She lamented this a few months ago, incidentally while we were at a going-away brunch for another expat friend (we’ll call her Kim) on her way back to Australia. Zelda said, “It doesn’t get any easier, saying goodbye. You just learn to accept it.” As we toasted Kim’s friendship and wished her luck on her ongoing adventure, I looked down at my bowl of soggy mueseli and felt a pang of sadness. I had only known Kim for a short while but she had become a friend and I would miss her.

But thankfully, we have email and telephones and Skype and Facebook. And of course, airplanes. So, keeping in touch is easier than it’s ever been. There’s nothing quite like sitting across from a friend and laughing together in person, but technology is better than nothing.

Parenthood has also served to remind me that life is ever-shifting, changing, surprising me. I make choices, plans, I hope for the best, and beyond that, the only thing I can do is bend with the wind.

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